27 February 2005

Stamina is one of racing’s great imponderables. Up until his last race everybody thought Farmer Jack lacked it. He won nine races but only the last one was over three miles and there seemed to be good reasons to think that the slowly run event might have been deceptive. Those reasons didn’t look so good as Farmer Jack ran the Racing Post Chase field ragged over as testing a Kempton three miles as you could be expected to endure.

What’s more, the record 19-strong field had a group of horses happy to dice for the lead ensuring that this was a real gallop all the way and the beaten horses would look like routed cavalry.Banker Count is 13 now but he’s suddenly found an Indian summer in these winter days. He’s torn his rivals apart three times running and jockey Sam Thomas was soon attacking once again yesterday. Attacking, but accompanied by other forces like See You Sometime and the Irish challenger Banker Count.

As the field swept up to the stand, the leaders were joined on the outside by the white noseband of Farmer Jack. In view of the stamina doubts, one wondered why Richard Johnson was committing himself so early, but behind Farmer Jack’s mane, he was happy with his position. “The horse has had problems with his jumping in the past,” said Johnson. “But over three miles the pace is slower and I was able to get a good rhythm on the outside and I was very happy to be chugging along with the leaders.”

The attraction of these races is the time it takes for the denouement to arrive. For a while Banker Count kept going with his fellow leaders, See You Sometime and Be My Better Half. Tom Scudamore forced Iznogoud up to challenge the grey Tribal Venture and the chestnut Tikram worked hard to get in contact but, on the outside, the ever-energetic Johnson still had power beneath.

There are three fences that come quickly at you in Kempton’s final straight. In other times one would have doubted Farmer Jack’s security at full throttle. But now he was almost nimble-footed. He took the third-last on a neat stride, the second-last on a short one and then took the final fence clear and true. The others were hung out with the soggy Sunbury washing. Iznogoud plugged on to be second, Banker Count third, Tikram fourth, but six lengths was the winning distance and the superiority was a great deal more than that.

Farmer Jack will sidestep Cheltenham to take in one of the big races at Aintree on the grounds that his jumping is much securer on a flat track. Trainer Philip Hobbs was winning this race for the third time in seven years, Johnson for the fourth time in five. But in truth the trainer’s greatest delight was the news from out west where his daughter Katherine had won the ladies’ race at the local point-to-point, her third victory in just five rides.

Later in the day, Hobbs ran three horses in the Juvenile Hurdle but had to settle for second and third with Amarula Ridge and Zalda behind the impressive winner Penzance in the white and black spot colours of the Elite Racing Club, who both owned and bred him. These silks had been made most famous by the brilliant mare Soviet Song. Penzance is a younger half-brother. As owner-breeding goes this is about as neat a double as it comes.

Alan King and Robert Thornton – Penzance’s trainer and jockey – had earlier taken the Rendlesham Hurdle with the newly-visored Crystal D’Ainay. Equipping headgear such as this always makes one doubt a horse’s commitment but Crystal D’Ainay buckled down really well to come past Patriarch Express and Royal Rosa.

In truth, their duel played into Thornton’s hands. In these conditions one or other or both would crack. When they did Crystal D’Ainay only had to keep his rhythm up and it was left to the grey Monet’s Garden to slug on for second.

Crystal D’Ainay pricked his ears as he crossed the line. Perhaps he was wondering where his nemesis Baracouda had got to. Next time out in the Cheltenham Ladbroke World Hurdle, Baracouda will be back. Better not tell Crystal D’Ainay yet.

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